Saturday, August 8, 2009

Does the contemporary rendering of the Nicene Creed deny revealed truth?

All That Is Visible and Invisible in the Nicene Creed - Anglicans In The Wilderness Community Blog

This is an interesting argument, and worthwhile as we prepare to hear Bible readings, sermons and words of worship this weekend.

While the Christian faith in no way denies that insights into God can be discovered by human thought and investigation, the truth of God in Christ relies on revealed truth. The Good News of Christ is what God chose to disclose in Jesus and spread through the world by apostles ("God-sent" witnesses) preaching the inspired ("God-breathed") Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

The linked article notes a shift of language in the contemporary version of the Nicene Creed in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The traditional description of God's creation containing things "visible and invisible" changes to "things seen and unseen." While "invisible" means "not available to our inspection unless revealed by God," "unseen" suggests that we can have a look with a bit of our own effort. The difference between "There is an angel in this room" and "Now where did I leave my cell phone?"

Have a look and see what you think. He also links to discussions of other words from the Creed, and how changed words can change the entire message. A good way to prepare heart and mind for Sunday.


Robin_G_Jordan said...

Is it actually the words themselves or the changed meaning that is given to the words? For example, when you say "invisible" means "not available to our inspection unless revealed by God," you are actually offering a theological interpretation of the word, and not a simple meaning for the word that you might obtain from the dictionary. When you say that "unseen" suggests that we can look with our own effort. There again you are engaging in interpretation. In the dictionary "unseen" is a synonym of "invisible," which is defined in terms of incapable of being seen. What may be happening here is that the words are being confused with interpretations that are given them--one a "good" interpretation and the other a "bad" interpretation. The words themselves may be actually neutral. However, "unseen" acquires negative associations due to the negative associations with the interpretation that liberal theologians give to that word. On the other hand, "invisible" retains positive associations due to the position associations with the interpretation that has historically been given to that word. Due to its recent use "unseen" has acquired some negative baggage. "Invisible" could acquire the same baggage if used in the same way. In a sense "unseen" is getting a "bum rap." It is not the word that is at fault but the meaning that some are assigning to it. "Unseen," after all, is the Germanic version of the Latinate "invisible." The idea of God revealing as opposed to man penetrating and visa versa is a theological construct and not inherent in the words themselves.

TLF+ said...

Yeah, I've always used the '79 and never had a problem w/ it obscuring the revealed truth of Christ. I was attempting here to state the author's point, in some ways processing it for myself. So I might not have done him justice and would encourage you to visit the link if you haven't already. He goes into about 10 different Creedal statements and these are certainly worth discussing when TEC seeks to explain certain of its beliefs and practices by appeal to liturgical language - some of which is unique to the '79 BCP.

Meanwhile, I don't think it is apples to apples to compare the dictionary definitions of words to their theological usage in a Creed. It is an "intellectual construct" to assert that words do not gain inherent meanings through context. I would not try to make a distinction between invisible and unseen in a discussion of, say, the review of a play or movie. In that context, they are likely to be synonyms. But liturgical language is different, because words are chosen to best express underlying faith concepts. (The metonymy of "liturgy" itself is an example).

If a particular construct is not inherent in particular words, then the discussion of what words to choose to best express the construct remains a live one, and the author's post at the link is all the more important.

I never joined a "Prayer Book Society" or such because I always perceived their analysis as hair splitting. But I am taking a second look at some of their discussions because changes in the '79 BCP are used as proof texts for sweeping changes in church life.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I think the 1979 book presents seriously problems, and not always subtle. It represents a break from the traditional Anglican formularies in the Eucharist, in Baptism, and in the ordinal, not to mention what it has done with the order of the Collects. I wrote rather extensively about this while I was still Episcopalian.

The '79 Book represents a farther departure from Holy Tradition. This moves us into dangerous waters. Today, if you were to ask the average Episcopalian "What is Holy Tradition?" they would find it difficult to articulate a satisfactory response.

aaytch said...

Tim, I actually think you summarized it nicely. If your remote is under the couch, it can be said to be "unseen", but if the dictionary says that it is "invisible", then the dictionary doesn't know what it's talking about.

Going further, I have seen nothing that to indicate a linguistic reason to make the change in wording. I can not think of any reason why "visible and invisible" is incomprehensible to the modern ear. Therefore, I naturally conclude that the authors made the change because they wanted to infuse the creed with a meaning of their own invention.

I am perhaps unfairly linking a revisionist doctrine with this linguistic "cause". So let me restate that I am not saying there is cause and effect, but rather that the language of "seen and unseen" matches with a way of thinking that was already well established in 1979. The unfortunate result is that the creed stopped functioning as a force of resistance to further erosion of Biblical thinking.

There is an expression "lex orendi, lex credendi", loosely translated as "truth spoken is truth heard". I suggest that the negative of that expression is actually more helpful than the expression itself... "truth never spoken is never believed." This is the effect of the change in the wording of the Nicene Creed.

Robin_G_Jordan said...

As I recall 1960s and 1970s, the liturgical renewal movement exercised a strong influence upon prayer book revision. There was a movement to use "plain English" and a movement to use common or ecumenical versions of the creeds, the Lord's Prayer, and a number of canticles. The former produced a number of awful prayers and the like; the later resulted in the creed used in the 1979 BCP. The revisionist doctrine came later--after the 1979 BCP was adopted.

There is a tendency to identify the 1979 BCP as "the" liberal prayer book. However, its predecessor, the 1928 BCP also reflected liberal influence. The penitential language of the American Prayer Book was diluted; references to God's anger and wrath were omitted. The 1928 BCP also contained prayers for the dead and elements of the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice. The 1979 BCP continued this trend.

Whether or not the Episcopal Church had adopted a new service book, the American Prayer Book I suspect would have been given a more revisionist interpretation. The influence of post-modernism and relativism has helped to seperate words and meanings, with words no longer having set meanings but whatever meaning a person gives them.

There is a tendency to focus on the 1979 BCP as the culprit behind the theological drift in the Episcopal Church. However, I believe that it is only a small part of the problem. Once words were given a revisionist meaning, then the revisionists claimed that was what the words had always meant. Conservatives themselves came to accept this argument instead of confronting the revisionist redefinition of words' meanings.